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Greater Middle East Diplomacy: The U.S. and Iran

September 14, 2010

The sixty-fifth ordinary session of the General Assembly opens at the United Nations in New York today.  Similar to last year, both President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to address the General Assembly in the coming days in the midst of strained relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The issue of nuclear technology development remains high on the agenda for both countries.  Iran continues to maintain that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and points out that, as a signer of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, it has the right to develop nuclear energy.  The United States, fearing that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons, has ratcheted up the pressure on Iran by advocating for and enacting harsher economic sanctions.  In sum, since 2009 we have witnessed a significant shift away from efforts to engage in direct diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Iran to an emphasis by both countries on confrontation and courting world opinion through the media and international bodies, including the United Nations.

During his annual visits to New York for the opening of the General Assembly over the past several years, President Ahmadinejad has participated in non-U.N. meetings with a range of groups and individuals.  In 2006, at the conclusion of a meeting with representatives of U.S. faith groups, President Ahmadinejad asked that the conversation continue and issued an invitation to meeting participants to visit Iran and meet with religious and political leaders.  FCNL’s Executive Secretary Joe Volk was a participant in the trip that U.S. religious leaders that made to Iran in February 2007 in an effort to bolster diplomatic efforts and promote dialogue.  When President Ahmadinejad traveled to New York in September 2007, two rather different meetings were held – first, a very public and tension-filled event at Columbia University, and second, a less public and more productive meeting with U.S. religious groups held at the Church Center of the U.N.   A year later, in September 2008, representatives of an even broader array of U.S. faith groups met with President Ahmadinejad at a New York hotel.  This meeting was picketed by groups opposed to dialogue with the Iranian president.

This year, the visit of President Ahmadinejad to New York will take place in a context that includes the following: significant internal political rifts and tensions in both countries; ongoing controversy about the Iranian nuclear program, including speculation that Israel may be planning air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next year; the introduction in late July by Rep. Gohmert (R-TX) and 46 co-sponsors of House Resolution 1553, the wording of which can be read as giving Israel a green light to bomb Iran;  recent declarations by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran is not fully cooperating with its ongoing inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities; the just-announced release of Sarah Shourd, one of three American hikers who were arrested near the Iran-Iraq border and have been held in a Teheran prison for over a year; the resumption today of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt without the participation of Hamas, which controls the government in Gaza and is supported by Iran; and ongoing controversy about the building of the Islamic cultural center and mosque in Manhattan, as well as the recent threat by a U.S. church to burn the holy Koran.

As the meetings unfold in New York and Sharm el-Sheik, FCNL will continue to promote diplomacy and civil discourse between the governments and the peoples of the U.S. and Iran, as well as between Israelis and Palestinians.  We are eager to hear the results from both New York and Sharm el-Sheik.

For a more in-depth analysis of related Middle East developments, please see Jim Fine’s August 27 blog post: “U.S.-Iran-Israel: The Fateful Triangle”.

  1. Shastri P permalink
    September 14, 2010 3:11 pm

    Thanks for your article … you mention a trip of religious leaders to Iran in 2007. Did that trip include any Baha’is? Have any of your meetings ever included Baha’is? Any discussion of “religious tolerance” in Iran is completely meaningless if it ignores the horrific treatment of Iran’s largest religious minority. Thanks for all your efforts.

  2. Mark Grantham permalink
    September 14, 2010 5:01 pm

    It is very important to me to remember, we are viewing the current situation with Western eyes and views. People should approach all matters at hand carefully and with intense thought. I lived in the Middle east, it was not until I said to myself that I needed to stop my western way of thinking, that I started to feel at home. The idea of a religious way of thinking is questionable to me. Are we talking about Sunni, Shiite, Sufi? Also, remember, the people in question are Persian, not Arabic!

  3. September 14, 2010 6:59 pm

    Several weeks ago I read that Russia offered to supply nuclear fuel to Iran if Iran would not build its own capability and would accept international inspection. Was this true? If so what is the status of the offer?

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